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Inaugural Clifford Scholar-in-Residence , Professor Zachary Clopton, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law

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Zachary Clopton
Professor Clopton’s scholarship explores the role of courts and litigation in solving complex problems. In light of recent developments that have undercut court access and private enforcement in federal courts, Professor Clopton’s work has drawn attention from state courts, public (governmental) enforcement, and newer forms of mass dispute resolution.  

 Prior to joining the faculty at Northwestern, Professor Clopton was an associate professor at Cornell University. He also clerked for the Honorable Diane Wood, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, including as a member of the NATO Chicago Summit Task Force, and worked in the national security group at Wilmer Hale in Washington, D.C.  He is a graduate of Harvard Law School (JD), Cambridge University (MPhil in International Relations), where he was a Gates Foundation Scholar, and Yale University (BA in History and Political Science). 

Professor Clopton’s talk addresses reform proposals directed at multidistrict litigation (MDL). MDL dominates the federal civil docket and has been used to consolidate hundreds of thousands of cases, including litigation regarding asbestos, the BP oil spill, Johnson & Johnson baby powder, NFL concussions, opioids and more. Many reform proposals treat MDL as a uniform category of cases, but Professor Clopton argues that this is a mistake. MDL is not a uniform category of large civil cases demanding one-size-fits-all procedure. To treat MDL as such would create incentives for parties to “procedure shop” into or out of MDL, imperiling horizontal equity and inviting abuse. 

Instead, Professor Clopton calls for MDL reformers to focus on the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, a group of seven judges handpicked by the Chief Justice with nearly unconstrained authority to decide whether to consolidate cases and which federal judge will hear them. Acknowledging the disparate nature of MDL cases suggests that, for many MDLs, the Panel need not have such wide discretion.  

View Professor Clopton's ​2021 Lecture MDL as Category​

Also, be sure to check out his Fireside Chat with Professor, Wendy Epstein​.